AND EMOTIONAL STRESS - COPING EFFECTIVELY
goes without saying: Residents of New Jersey communities impacted by the
recent flash floods are feeling stressed.
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reminds us that the weeks following
a disaster can be the most stressful for disaster victims. Even the most
resilient person may begin to feel stressed, insecure, and maybe even
a little frightened. It is important that those affected by a disaster
address their emotional needs as part of the recovery process.
Communities work together during the height of storms to fight a common
threat. However, after the disaster-inflicted shock wears off, and the
long and sometimes tedious process of recovery gets underway, and emotional
responses may crop up. Responses like irritability, anger, fatigue, loss
of appetite, trouble sleeping, hyperactivity and sadness may surface,
say mental health experts.
It is important
to remember that these feelings are normal. Many individuals affected
by flooding will experience at least one or more of these feelings. Not
everyone reacts in the same way or heals at the same pace. However, by
acknowledging and sharing these feelings, it is possible to feel better.
Sharing tensions, fears, stress, and frustration, can bring wholeness
and understanding. This is a time to give and get support from family
common symptoms of stress include irritability, anger, fatigue, loss of
appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares, sadness, depression, headaches, nausea,
hyperactivity, lack of concentration, and increased alcohol and drug abuse.
"Dealing with the aftermath of any disaster is extremely difficult,"
said FEMA Director James Lee Witt. "Feeling overwhelmed, even depressed
is common. People need to know that acknowledging stress is the first
step toward feeling better."
Some ways to cope with stress include:
about your feelings with family, friends and neighbors. Sharing common
experiences helps individuals deal with and overcome anxiety and feelings
back into daily routines as soon as possible and trying to maintain
good eating and sleeping habits.
physical exercise each day, even if it is only going for an extended
themselves and their families an occasional break from cares, worries,
and disaster-associated problems.
that not everyone reacts to stress in the same way or heals at the
health experts say that disaster-related stress may surface days or
even months following the event, and can affect children as well as
counselors are often available through the American Red Cross, the Salvation
Army, other voluntary agencies, as well as churches and synagogues. Additional
mental health information may be found on the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, Center for Mental Health Services' website, or your
county mental health agency.
Affect Kids Too
affect kids, too. Children are often frightened by nature's fury, separated
from and worried about the future. The AFEMA for Kids@ web site was created
two years ago to teach youngsters what disasters are, how to prepare for
them and what to do when they strike.
Holly Harrington manages the site for FEMA. "During Hurricane Floyd,
one child wrote that she knew the hurricane was coming and that she was
really, really, really scared," said Harrington. "She was particularly
upset because her parents weren't talking to her about the impending storm
and that made her especially anxious about the situation."
Harrington said the FEMA for Kids site talks directly about the kids and
includes six specific steps on how they can feel better. The steps include
the suggestion that children write or draw pictures about what has happened
as a way to express their concerns.
"The Web site can even post the artwork and drawings so the children
can, in effect, communicate their feelings to other kids in similar circumstances,"
In addition, the site includes information for parents about behaviors
their children may exhibit and how to help them recovery emotionally from
the trauma of a natural disaster.
"Children may suddenly act younger than they are or may appear stoic
- not crying or expressing concern," said Harrington. "Parents
can help their children by talking to them, keeping them close and even
spoiling them just a bit for a little while. Children are particularly
vulnerable to emotional stress after experiencing a disaster. They are
not equipped with the same resources adults may have and often find it
difficult to express their fears and anxieties. Pay attention if a child
exhibits some of the following behaviors: excessive fear of the dark or
of being alone, changes in eating or sleeping habits, persistent nightmares,
separation anxiety, loss of trust in adults, feelings of guilt, and physical
symptoms such as headaches, vomiting or fever.
Mental health experts say that there are many things parents or other
caring adults can do to help children work through their emotions:
them to share their feelings and concerns.
about what happened, giving children simple facts they can understand.
them with extra affection and explain that the family is safe and
will stay together.
as many familiar routines as possible.
children and hug them frequently.
bedtime a special moment of calm and comfort.
a normal routine, with time included for extra physical activities.
children to possible after-effects of the crisis, such as funerals.
rituals that provide a sense of safety and belonging.
children to help with chores, projects, or planning for the future.
children with a sense of hope.
tips for identifying disaster-related stress in children, and for
helping them cope, can be found on the FEMA For Kids web site: http://www.fema.gov/kids/tch_aft.htm.
Concerns for Older Adults
may be particularly vulnerable to negative feelings and reactions. It
is particularly important they ask for support when it is needed.
considerations for older adults include some common feelings such as:
Some common reactions in older adults:
- memories or feelings associated with prior losses
- fear of dependency or lack of self-sufficiency
- worry about limited financial resources and time to rebuild
- fear of institutionalization
- fear of a decline in health and limitations on mobility and ability
- worry about limited financial resources and time to rebuild
- withdrawal and isolation even from family and friends
- concealing the full extent of the disaster's impact
- apathy-no longer caring to rebuild or start over
- confusion and disorientation
effect to reach out to older adults in your family or community who may
be impacted by the disaster to insure they get the assistance and support
they need in the post-disaster environment.
An activity that may help all family members is to plan for possible future
emergencies. Knowing how to prepare for and react to a disaster not only
saves lives, but can give peace of mind.
Federal Emergency Management Agency